Are we going into World War III?” my 10-year-old asked me the other day.
His brother was reading the news about the Malaysian Airlines flight being shot down out loud from his iPhone, and we had been talking about the tragic horrors of the Middle East.
I felt like I felt the time we sat in the car in a McDonald’s parking lot in North Carolina as we waited to see if the tornados blowing through would pick up our car and throw us back down again, like we’d heard they’d done to tractor trailers between us and the next highway exit.
He asked then, like he was really asking now, “Are we going to be okay?”
I remember being 10 and unable to sleep imagining that “They” were coming for me, the Nazis or whomever was up next for perpetrating genocide. I saw and read a million things about the Holocaust, images that stuck.
On other nights, I imagined it was the Russians, pressing that button and annihilating us all. Nuclear obliteration seemed to be a real threat.
I guess nothing has changed. There are always things pitting one people against another, for religious beliefs, skin color — you name it — ostensibly for the safety of their own.
The headlines these days are scary and I can no longer shield my kids now that they are old enough to find the news themselves. My lifetime commitment to no cable means our television is never on blaring the bad scary news, and no news source comes in to our house except The New Yorker, whose deep analysis of current events largely escapes my kids except through cartoons, which make light of the world’s messes.
I have tried, like Roberto Benigni in “Life is Beautiful,” to pretend that it is all good amidst the truth that sometimes it isn’t. I hug my friend who works for the United Nations sometimes and offer my sympathy for the impossibleness of her job.
Uniting Nations? World peace? Good luck.
But why not? Strangely it was Sting who made me feel better as a kid about the Cold War. He sang the song whose standout lyric said, “I hope the Russians love their children too.”
I thought to myself that they must, right? Everyone loves their children, right? I have to believe people do love their children, all people, however outrageous the tactics they employ in the name of protecting them.
The problem is that animals will do anything to protect themselves. And we don’t like to think about it, but we are only animals, us humans, every single one of us. Our instincts will always kick in, fostered by the environment we’re surrounded by, to do what it seems to take to survive.
I don’t know what’s going to happen in the world, or who to blame when things get ugly. It seems there should be a right and a wrong, but world history shows most peoples have been on both sides at one time or another. When my kids want me to moderate a fight (which is to say punish the other for a terrible transgression), I say: “So much has happened before. How do you expect me to judge right now? Just make up and move on.”
I wish that we could all make up and move on. I wish that loving our own children didn’t have to mean hating other people’s, and that we could realize we’re really all the same before we completely ruin this beautiful world we live in together.
So when my kid asked if World War III was on the way, I couldn’t honestly say for sure.
A parent doesn’t always know what’s going to happen, and can only promise that you’ll be there to help deal with whatever does.